World War II, American "Defense" Policy, and the Constitution

Published: 1994-11-01

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Joseph Sobran is a nationally-syndicated columnist, author and lecturer. He is a former senior editor of National Review, and currently Washington, DC, correspondent for The Wanderer and the Rothbard-Rockwell Report. He edits a monthly newsletter, Sobran's (c/o Griffin Communications, P.O. Box 565, Herndon, VA 22070). These essays first appeared in the June 2, July 21, and August 11, 1994, issues of The Wanderer, a traditionalist Roman Catholic weekly.

Rethinking the Holy War

We learn now of the likelihood that several top physicists on the Manhattan Project may have been passing helpful information along to Joseph Stalin. The story is startling but, on reflection, hardly amazing.

In his book Special Tasks, the former Soviet spymaster Pavel Sudaplatov makes a sensational disclosure: He says proudly that the Soviets' acquisition of the atomic bomb was facilitated by the nuclear insider trading of Enrico Fermi, Leo Szilard, Niels Bohr, and – surprise! – Robert Oppenheimer.

If Sudaplatov's story is true, Joe McCarthy was living in a fool's paradise. But there are more serious implications.

Oppenheimer's loyalty to the United States had long been suspect; there is much in his life, his family, his circle of friends, to suggest the Soviet sympathies that were common enough in those days. During what is now called "the McCarthy Era," his security clearance was suspended with much apologetic coughing from the government that suspended it, which was at pains to stress that nobody doubted his loyalty. Ever since then, Oppenheimer had been a certified Victim of McCarthyism, like Alger Hiss.

But the more important point is that Oppenheimer and others like him (including Hiss) may also have felt that Soviet sympathies were not necessarily anti-American. If he was helping Stalin, after all, he was doing no more than Franklin Roosevelt himself, whose obsession with destroying Germany led him into alliance with the most murderous regime in history (except, possibly, for Communist China).

And Bohr several times urged Roosevelt to share nuclear technology with the Soviets. We may also think of the Israeli spy, Jonathan Pollard, who still insists, probably in all sincerity, that he never meant to be disloyal to this country when he turned its secrets over to an "ally."

Though much disputed, Sudaplatov's story merely underscores what should have become obvious by now: The antiwar Americans – the "isolationists" and "America Firsters" – were right about World War II. The United States should have stayed out.

Joseph Sobran

Joseph Sobran

It is time we stopped treating World War II as a holy war and took its measure rationally.

The net result of the war, apart from hundreds of thousands of dead young Americans (very nearly including my father, who saw pieces of his friends retrieved from the ocean with grapples after a kamikaze attack), was to leave much of Europe in Communist hands, with the Soviets in possession, only four years after the war's end, of something Germany and Japan hadn't had: the means of annihilatingus.

There were other drawbacks and disgraces. American freedoms were sharply curtailed, most flagrantly the rights of Americans of Japanese descent; the federal government consolidated its power over us, ceasing to be "federal" in any meaningful sense. American planes bombed cities in a deliberate campaign of killing civilians, abetted by war propaganda inciting race-hatred against the Japanese. And of course the military draft meant that everybody, not just draftees, could be forced to participate in one way or another. It was total war, which necessitates something like a totalitarian state. "It's a free country" yielded to "Don't you know there's a war on?"

Neither the Japanese nor the Germans wanted war with us; Roosevelt did his utmost to provoke them while lying to the citizens of the country again and again and again. Roosevelt's defenders don't deny that he lied; showing their dedication to democracy, they defend the lies themselves as "farsighted."

Roosevelt's defenders also don't deny that the Soviets murdered tens of millions of Christians, mostly Orthodox (one scholar [R. J. Rummel in Lethal Politics] puts the total number of dead at 61.9 million, including non-Christians). It's just that, for liberals, tens of millions of Christians are as nothing against the sacred imperative of stopping Hitler. And to this day there is no public memorial in the United States or, as far as I know, in the new, democratic Russia to the myriads of persecuted Christians, whose churches were razed, whose culture was destroyed, whose children were taken from them, and whose lives ended in torment and oblivion. There are sharp limits to liberal compassion.

As the 50th anniversary of D-Day is commemorated, think of the millions we have been quietly allowed to forget.

Afraid to be Popular

Do you, dear reader, ever ask yourself: "In just what sense does the Department of Defense defend me? Why does it – still – keep military bases in far-flung places like South Korea and 'furkey?"

Good questions. The truth is that you are not being defended much at all. And if you look at American history, you'll find that your ancestors weren't defended much either. They may have been involved in fighting, but it almost certainly wasn't within our borders, which is where you'd naturally expect "defense" to occur.

It's startling to reflect that the U.S. government has probably killed more people outside its own borders, in proportion to the number killed by foreign powers within its borders, than any government in history. Our wars may be defensible, but they're not always "defense."

Still, no President has ever been elected by promising to take us to war. Several, like Franklin Roosevelt, have been elected after promising not to. I don't recall whether Bill Clinton ever promised not to, but it doesn't matter, because he would have explained afterward, the way he always does, that he never actually said what everyone thought they heard him say. The man talks extemporaneously in fine print.

Even so, it was reasonably assumed that, as President, he wouldn't send American boys to the fate he had so adroitly side-stepped during his college years; his unofficial campaign slogan in 1992 was: "He kept himself out of war." And as President, he has conducted a popular foreign policy. At least it would be popular if he weren't afraid to call attention to it. He doesn't want to admit it, but he has kept us out of war – in Bosnia, Korea, and the Mideast.

Which raises an interesting question. Here is a President who c:;an use all the popularity he can get, yet he doesn't want to point out that he has kept us at peace. And as I write, he appears about to launch a mini-war in Haiti. What gives? Why this foreign policy that dares not speak its name? If the Haitian War comes to pass, it won't be "defense," any more than the Gulf War and the Panama War were. The Haitian rulers aren't threatening us. The war will be fought because someone other than the great mass of the American people insists upon it.

Here I yield the floor to a source I don't usually turn to for enlightenment, Richard Cohen of The Washington Post. In a passage that could be profitably studied in a political science course, he has explained why Clinton, as a practicing politician, has no choice but to invade Haiti: "The American public may not give a damn about foreign policy, but the vari-

Joseph Sobran ous elites (political, journalistic, business, etc.) do. For a widely popular President, the judgment of the elites would not matter. But Clinton is far from popular. His margin for error is virtually nonexistent."

My only quibble is with Cohen's parenthetical identification of these "elites." It's interesting that he names journalists among them; so much for the idea that journalists are neutral observers. But he leaves out the ethnic lobbies that do so much to drive American policy. In the case of Haiti, it's the black lobby – especially the Black Caucus in Congress – that is pushing for war.

Of course all this has nothing to do with defending you, Mr. Doe. That's why you aren't especially being consulted, even indirectly. Your representative won't be asked to declare war, as prescribed by the Constitution, which has so littleto do with how we are actually ruled anyway. Ordinary Haitians are already pining under a savage U.S. blockade; the people who are starving aren't the ones with the guns.

What our elites call "isolationism" our ancestors called "neutrality" – and most Americans still instinctively prefer it to intervention and war. It tells you something about our democracy that Clinton feels than in order to survive, he has to do something that may make him even more unpopular than he already is.

The Constitutional Prejudice

Gosh! My one-man campaign to revive the Tenth Amendment seems to be paying om All over the nation, Americans are discovering the part of their constitutional heritage liberals hoped they wouldn't find out about.

Nancy Roman reports in The Washington Times that the forgotten Tenth is now being invoked all over the place. It's being cited by states rejecting federal orders (known as "unfunded mandates") to clean up their water and air, hire more police, jail illegal aliens – and to bear the costs themselves; by law enforcement officers who refuse to do background checks on gun purchasers, as demanded by the (unconstitutional) Brady Bill; by various champions of both states' and individuals' rights.

Colorado, followed by other states, is suing the federal government to "cease and desist" issuing unfunded mandates. Jim Abbott, chairman of the state's Tenth Amendment Committee, notes that under the historical understanding of the Constitution, the federal government has no power to create departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, Transportation, Energy, Education, and Commerce, or the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, the Federal Communications Commission, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, to name a few of the many federal regulatory agencies.

The Tenth is usually thought of as the states' rights amendment, but it's more than that. It says simply: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people." Put otherwise, "We the People" have "delegated" certain powers to "the United States" (i.e., the federal government). These powers are listed in the Constitution. And any powers not listed remain with the separate states or with Us the People.

There was a good reason for this amendment. Many of those who hesitated to ratify the Constitution didn't feel that the powers it conferred were tyrannical; but they feared that if the federal government had those powers, it would also be strong enough to claim and exert powers that hadn't been conferred – and at that point nothing would be able to stop it from taking all the powers it wanted. So the Tenth nailed down the point that the people were granting the federal government only those powers mentioned in the Constitution, and no others.

You can see this point more clearly by contrasting the Tenth Amendment with its companion, the Ninth Amendment: "The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people." Put otherwise, the Constitution does not attempt to list all the people's rights, but it does list all the federal government's powers. There is thus a constitutional prejudice in favor of rights retained by the people, but against any new power claimed by the federal government.

Thday the operative prejudice is just the reverse. We think we don't have a right unless it's listed in the Constitution, but we assume that the federal government can claim just about any unlisted power it wants to. If the framers found out about this state of affairs, they'd reach for the smelling salts.

How did the central principle of the Constitution get stood on its head? In 1940 Roosevelt's rubberstamp Supreme Court declared the Tenth Amendment a mere "truism," of no force or effect. And since then the court has never struck down a single major power grab by the federal government, while it has extirpated hundreds of state laws. The court has "expanded"-distorted and inflated, actually-the First, Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments (not to mention the interstate commerce clause), but never the Tenth or, interestingly, the Second. On the contrary, these two amendments have been contracted almost to nothingness.

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Author(s): Joseph Sobran
Title: World War II, American "Defense" Policy, and the Constitution
Sources: The Journal of Historical Review, vol. 14, no. 6 (November/December 1994), pp. 31f.; reprinted from The Wanderer, June 2, July 21, and August 11, 1994.
Published: 1994-11-01
First posted on CODOH: Dec. 11, 2012, 6 p.m.
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